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When Sportsnet made the decision to fire Don Cherry, it vacated the biggest seat on one of the nation's longest-running television broadcasts, Hockey Night in Canada.
Following one of the most divisive decisions in the network's history, the entire nation awaits its next move. Regardless of how you feel about Cherry, replacing him is a difficult and delicate matter.
The Kingston, Ontario native was the face of "Coach's Corner" since its inception nearly 40 years ago. Broadcasters come and go, but Cherry was more than just an analyst. He was the eccentric representation of an outdated hockey persona. He had a vibrant image and brash personality that was both unyielding and unapologetic. You either hated him or you clung to every word he said. Regardless of which category you fell into, Cherry was, for nearly four decades, must-watch television. "Coach's Corner" was his baby, and it was nurtured and embedded into the fabric of the nation.
The popularity of the segment was largely due to its impenitent nature, which leaves the network with a massive decision to make. Does it continue to run "Coach's Corner" in a similar fashion with a new host or does it rebrand the show completely?
Should Sportsnet opt to continue with the long-standing program, oddsmakers have identified the likeliest list of replacements:
Sitting atop the list, and for good reason, is Brian Burke. A former Calder Cup champion, Burke left the AHL to study at Harvard Law School, setting the stage for a lengthy career in NHL front offices. He assumed the role of general manager, in addition to other positions, for five different teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Hartford Whalers, and Anaheim Ducks, where he won a Stanley Cup.
Just like Cherry, Burke has an old-school hockey mind, and he's largely set in his ways. He's brazen, truculent, and unpolished. His hockey opinions are unwavering and in your face. However, he's progressive when it comes to off-ice issues. Burke is a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights. His late son, a gay- rights activist, was tragically killed in a car accident in February 2010. Most importantly, Burke is able to differentiate between toughness on the ice and sensitivity off of it. Cherry's inability to do so ultimately proved to be his undoing.
The 64-year-old Burke also has the appearance suitable for the role. While Cherry's look was defined by his vibrant suits, Burke's style resembles that of an exhausted politician following a grueling campaign. His grey, slicked-back hair detracts from his often disheveled attire - shirt buttons undone, tie draped around his shoulders. Describe it however you like, but Burke certainly has an unmistakable look. If Sportsnet is looking to make a seamless transition from Cherry, there is no better option.
Barring an overhaul to the segment's format, the eventual full-time replacement will likely have an NHL background. Don Cherry was a two-time Stanley Cup finalist as the head coach of the Boston Bruins, as well as a Jack Adams Award winner.
The professional and personal relationships Cherry formed in the game during his time as a player and coach helped him provide viewers with insight into the lives of players - both past and present - we watch night in and night out. He told the sorts of stories you can only pick up from being deeply entrenched in the game and not just covering it from afar.
That would essentially rule out Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston. Both are well-spoken journalists with their finger on the pulse. They are great at what they do and serve a valuable purpose to the network, but they lack the required personality to effectively fill the role of host of "Coach's Corner."
Colby Armstrong is another entertaining member of the hockey media, but it's hard to envision his affable nature and fresh-faced grin on "Coach's Corner." "Armdog" is everyone's friend and no one's enemy. He just doesn't fit.
It's also difficult to imagine the network breaking up the broadcast tandem of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson. Choosing Simpson for this gig would be like grabbing the roll of toilet paper from downstairs to replace the empty one in the main bathroom. Either way, you're going to need a new roll.
Aside from Burke, Sportsnet would be foolish not to consider Paul Bissonnette, arguably the best replacement to have been left off this list. Bissonnette, or "BizNasty" as he's known on Twitter, certainly doesn't lack in confidence. He believes hockey should be played a certain way and despite having grown up in the new age, he respects the old-school mentality that personalities like Cherry and Burke have fought to preserve. The former Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick has an infectious personality and is a terrific ambassador for the game, much like Cherry was.
Upon retiring in 2017, Bissonnette immediately found a home in hockey media. He accepted a role as a color commentator for the Arizona Coyotes radio network, and a year later, he joined the popular hockey podcast "Spittin' Chiclets." He immediately became the focal point of the podcast, with his outlandish stories stealing the spotlight. He's not afraid to speak his mind and he has the ability to stand up for what he believes in without directly offending or insulting others in the process.
As successful as the "Spittin' Chiclets" podcast has become, developing a cult following among hockey players and fans alike, it shouldn't be too hard to convince Bissonnette, a native of Welland, Ontario, to return home to assume the most coveted role in Canadian hockey broadcasting.
Still, at 34, Bissonnette has a limited amount of broadcast experience. While his future in the industry is bright, Burke remains the most sensible choice for the job. Already with Sportsnet, Burke could slot into the role on a full-time basis as soon as this weekend. Given his undeniable similarities to Cherry, some viewers might not even notice a difference.
Alex Moretto is a sports betting writer for theScore. A journalism graduate from Guelph-Humber University, he has worked in sports media for over a decade. He will bet on anything from the Super Bowl to amateur soccer, is too impatient for futures, and will never trust a kicker. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.